Friday, September 30, 2005

... or reign in Hell?

So often these days, I read something and just sit back and wonder. At the writer's erudition, assimilation, imagery, precision, quality. Blogging has given me access to a quite surprising array of fine writing. I am humbled. And far too often, very envious. I hate feeling inferior.

And then one comes across blogs that try so hard but ....
Do you feel the same embarrassment? Do you wince as you think, "There but for the grace of God ... "
Do you wonder what you would do if s/he asked your opinion of something s/he'd written?

So which is more difficult?

See, blogs are like a community. All of us have chosen to put a little (or a lot) of ourselves out on the line, we're here by choice, we've given each other the right to pass judgement upon the aspect of ourselves that's put on view.
It's not the same as reading something in a book or magazine, where the writer is paid for bringing words into the world, where we can dismiss the work as tripe and pass on to the next article, essay, review, book, whatever. Because the reader is not so important there, just part of the inchoate, anonymous market that can't talk back. This is the forum. Here, anybody can leave a comment trashing your work. If not on your blog, then on her own.

So here, on this screen, where we hang out our frailties for applause, we come across great writing that reminds us of how far we still have to go.
And we come across losers. Trite, hackneyed, lacking words and rhythm, yet so earnest that we wince in empathy.
So which is more welcome? Or more unpleasant?

Furthermore, there's always something to learn from someone who's superior. (Humility, for starters?) What do you learn from someone whose work you can't respect?

Tell me.


Don said...

The art of not so readily making that distiction between superior and inferior.

Jay said...

I read different blogs for different reasons, so my expectations for each are (naturally) different.

Yes, some bloggers write so well they make me want to hurl cyber-eggs. But I also envy those who are effortlessly funny, or just plain interesting. As long as the writing isn't so bad as to be distracting, I don't think bloggers need to be Booker Prize winners to make me go a little green.

thalassa_mikra said...

That Munchian Homer is brilliant!

I know that there are certain types of blogs I gravitate towards, the kind that manage to accomodate a wider worldview while being capable of writing reflexively of their lives. However, I also like the ones that satisfy my amorphous notions of "good writing", even if they are completely impersonal.

The ones that bore me to tears are the spelling-challenged ones, or those that are totally vanilla and bland or very explicitly political, whatever the persuasion.

Gamesmaster G9 said...

I read a blog if it satisfies one of the following criteria

a) It is written by a friend.
b) I am taken up with the writing style.
c) It gives me a glimpse into a world I am not familiar with.
d) It is information-laden.

Your blog is read often for reason b). Some, such as Samit's blog fall into multiple categories.

Falstaff said...

"What do you learn from someone whose work you can't respect?"

a) Pitfalls to avoid in your own writing
b) The art of giving constructive feedback (this links to point a - I think the learning comes from thinking through what exactly is wrong with the person's writing and what it would take to make it better)
c) The importance of good writing and why it matters
d) How to be diplomatic.

It's also, of course, a fascinating exercise in ethics. Does it make sense to hurt someone for the sake of a principle? Why, exactly is it wrong to lie to someone and say their (hopelessly mediocre) writing is brilliant, if the only consequence of that lie is to make them happy? You might argue it's important to keep one's integrity - but how do you decide how far you'll go for integrity, and why?

On a different note, totally agree with Jay. The bloggers I'm envious of are the ones who manage to be effortlessly casual and funny.

Vaga Bond said...

Or, write a Wikipaedia entry about it and suggest/request links to the OED and the LSE. And just remember that we've all read a lot of pulp (even Asimov started there) on board planes etc. :-)

Shobhik said...

I agree with the Gamesmaster.

Also, I think the only blogs that are bad are the spamblogs. Other than that, people generally put together good stuff (in their opinion) in their blog. So, for them its really cool. You've got to respect that.

sinusoidally said...

Are you drawn to ‘loser’ blogs because they are really bad or because they make you feel better about yourself? In addition to learning that you are a better writer who can be judgmental at times, you could learn to not visit their blog! Why read something that you can’t respect?

Not every one who writes a blog is born a writer. They may be good at other things. They could fly a plane well, fix a broken computer in seconds, change the oil in one’s car without dirtying their hands, open a bank account with a dollar or maybe have the power to write you a prescription if you were sick of good writing one day.

IdeaSmith said...

How about something simple like "To each, his own" and "Everyone is entitled to dream...and now to voice them too."

I know someone personally who trashes quite a bit of my writing. I can only say "No one is asking you to read".

km said...

That Homer's "Scream" is a hoot!

What do you learn from someone whose work you can't respect?

Don't you think the word "work" in the context of blogs is a bit too intense, JAPda? I mean, it's just a blog.

The question to ask is this: if the writing on a blog sucks and the blog still manages to gobble up some serious traffic, what can we learn from such a blog? What can an aspiring writer learn from a Sidney Sheldon or a Barbara Cartland?


Veena said...


Not sure about respect but if I don't find a blog interesting, I just stop visiting it. Which, I guess is equivalent to saying there's nothing I can learn from the blog. Or maybe not. Its just that I am not willing to spend the time to see if there's anything worth learning from it! After all, I don't take blogs seriously; blogs are a source of entertainment than anything else, so I don't really look at each blog to see if I can learn anything from it. Though I must say, certain bloggers write so well that I end up learning a couple of things.

Quizman said...

This is my idea of a great blog. Not only is it gutsy, but it also outrageously funny and informative.

JAP - one of the qualities that I find so charming about your writing is that it is effortlessly pompous, yet very endearing. Quite a deft work of art, that.

J. Alfred Prufrock said...

I was going to reply to some comments, but after Quizman's uber-squelch I'll just shut the fuck up.


Gamesmaster G9 said...

Awww! Don't feel bad. Here - I dedicated a post on my (comics) blog to you. Feel better now?

Quizman said...

Awww, JAP, you could've used Max Reger's classic retort.

Plumpernickel said...

Sorry for posting this here. Please do not leave personal comments on my blog. You can email me if you need to ask anything. I hope you understand. My email is Thanks. JFYI, yes, but it was blown out of proportion.

Bonatellis said...

why this craving for e-superiority? Is it escapism?

Isn't blogging more like bathroom singing? who cares who writes well and who doesn't when almost everyone is nameless, faceless ... and many may be real life losers ...

Teleute said...

patience. tolerance.

Rimi said...

this explains a lot. it does.

a thought--perhaps not all bloggers take their blogs as serious literature. perhaps not everybody is after a book-deal, or the stamp of approval from obviously superior (in whatever way) fellow bloggers.
it's a community, true, and everybody has the right to judge, and perhaps also to broadcast their judgement, but there's more than the hint of a chance that some aren't interested to know about it.

if you get my drift. and a reply would be appreciated.

angst said...

You learn, perhaps, that you're not alone. That other people have bad things happen to them, but they get up, move on.

And if their prose isn't as pristine as you'd prefer it to be, you learn, perhaps, that grammar and exactly the right word or turn of phrase aren't the only things that matter.

just passing by said...

And, notwithstanding the fact that what I really wanted to say has already been expressed very neatly by angst, you may also learn that to someone else, your own blog may represent that of a loser. So you quit worrying too much about what others think (and also in turn learn to care less about what _you_ think of others), and just create, express, share.

Bonatellis said...

just to add to the point ... the Indian blogging community is dominated by "supposed" journalists, some of whom are listed on the left side of your blog and qualify as "good writers" ... had you done any real life research, you'd have known that almost all are non-entities in their organisations or are journalism dropouts (i know them from real life) ... probably seeking refuge in blogland to overcome their attention-deficit existance ... and helped by other bloggers who visit their blogs to publicise theirs and leave comments like "great blog", "fabulous post", etc ...

this was not meant to take any potshot at these folks, but just a statement of facts ...

Bonatellis said...

... to drive home my point that "champion" bloggers can be real life losers ...

my apologies if I sound nasty ...

J. Alfred Prufrock said...

Don – Good point, but I’ll pass up the “not so readily making that distinction between superior and inferior.” Doesn’t fly. We all do it, I just don’t bullshit about it. Tolerance is one thing, hypocrisy is another.

Jay, T-M, G9, Kanti, Ideasmith – Maybe I couldn’t quite get the point across. It’s not only about what we consider ‘good’ or ‘bad’, but how we react to it. And Ani, thanks for the dedication.

Vaga Bond, are you suggesting that I write Wikipedia entries? The very thought! *puts hand delicately to cheek*

Sinusoidally, we’d only visit that blog once (unless it’s a friend’s), but that would be enough to form an opinion. As for the blogger being good at something else - when the Indian team flub yet another match, how do I care that they have 4 qualified engineers? Why don't they stick to their slide rules then?

Ideasmith (again) and KM, the blogzample was one that invited feedback on poetry. ‘Work’ may be too serious a term for blog-posts; how about ‘output’ with all its possible interpretations?

Teleute, those are needed, but surely you practice them rather than LEARN them in that context?


Falstaff said...

JAP: It's interesting (and fairly ironic) that people who are so militant about your criticising other people's writing, seem to have no issue with criticising the content of your post. As if people had the right to write however badly they want, as long as their opinions were to one's liking.

Personally, I'm always happy to listen to points of view that I disagree with, as long as they're well written. I usually find that people who don't write well (whether or not they put effort into it) don't have anything particularly interesting to say - simply because I consider anything clear and creative and engaging to be good writing, never mind the grammar. Obviously, people who don't write well have the right to express themselves (it hadn't occured to me till I read some of these comments that you might be suggesting otherwise - I'm still not sure you were), much as they have the right to go to the bathroom whenever the need strikes them, but that doesn't mean we need to take any interest in their performance.

I do agree with the comments that argue for simply leaving such bloggers alone, of course. Aside from the fact that good writing is subjective (so that your opinion may not be the definitive one), why waste time on people who are not worth it (except, perhaps, as a reminder of what really bad writing looks like)? There's no reason to appoint oneself the Lord High Arbitrator of other people's writing. Just read what you like and ignore the rest.

J. Alfred Prufrock said...

Rimi, regardless of the right, I’m not about to broadcast any judgements, thank you. As I’ve tried to clarify, this was not about judgement but about empathy. (And while we may not regard our blogs as serious litt or serious anything, you did say “it’s all about the audience”. I’m so in this for the book deal!)

Angst, thanks, you perhaps got the closest to my question. But hello? Grammar and exactly the right turn of phrase – there are OTHER things that matter?! Heh. Perhaps Ani’s classification is a good clarification.

D / Just-passing-by, that’s the whole point, the empathy that comes from knowing we’re all losers in some way or the other. As for not caring what others think, I’m not enough of an egoist to consider my own opinon definitive. Others’ opinions matter.

Bonatellis, if I like his/her blog, how do I care whether s/he is a ‘failed journalist’? Or a successful stripper? To go back to the Indian cricket team, just because they lose games, I wouldn’t hold it against them if they were also lousy engineers.

Quizman, thanks for (a) the link (b) pointing out the pomposity. Have now put my high horse out to stud.

Falstaff – you stand alone. Thanks.


J. Alfred Prufrock said...

Veena, sorry I missed you out (and NO, I'm NOT saying it matters to you - cut me some slack here, guys!). I agree with what you say, makes sense. And you're one of the few who answered my question without going off on a tangent. Thanks.


zigzackly said...

*Makes mental note not to tell J.A.P. where his poetry resides.*

*Wonders whether he should leave a comment after reading the next post and its addenda.*

Seriously though, if there is anything to learn from blogs you don't respect, I'd say it's the reminder that "it takes all kinds" is very, very true.

And seeing the faithful audiences commanded by the occasional blog you think is not exactly star quality - that can be a reality check.


Teleute said...

okay, i amend my response - you learn to EXERCISE patience and tolerance, and soon become very proficient at such matters.

Loony Libberswick of Llapland said...

Erm...It was the Homer that prompted me to comment. It was in my blog too :-)

Anyway. I'm the sort who probably causes all the emphatic wincing. But it's fun to know what people think. And find out where I stand as a writer.

But then again, I guess I don't take it too seriously. It's just something that I like doing. It all a little pretentious as far as I am concerned.

Loony Libberswick of Llapland said...

that's "It's" not "It". I'm a bit quirky about missing out apostrophes and getting spellings wrong. I couldn't muster enough patience to read the other comments. So if i'm saying the same thing as everyone can watch TV or something. i dunno.